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What do a nurse anesthetist, a carpenter and a polycarbonate box have in common? They’re all part of a project to protect providers and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It started on social media – as things do these days.

Chris Heiss, a certified registered nurse anesthetist at Geisinger Medical Center, found a potential solution to a big problem – protecting healthcare workers from COVID-19 when intubating and extubating patients (a process used to help a person who needs help breathing or can’t breathe). He saw a post about a shield used for just that purpose by some healthcare workers in South Korea. Chris decided to share the post and ask for help in making one for his team in the OR at the Danville hospital.

“Within 30 minutes, the post had nearly 400 shares,” says Chris.

Little did he know, he would find all the help he needed in the same facility he reports to work every day.

Through the power of social networking, Chris connected with Al Neuner, Geisinger’s vice president of Facilities Operations and plans for a prototype quickly got underway.

Developing prototypes

With the help of in-house carpenter Len Letteer, the first design was tested by Chris’s colleagues in the OR. It was made of acrylic and had armholes that allowed providers to manage a patient’s airway without being in the line of fire – right above a patient’s mouth – during the process.

“It worked great, but while the testers were cleaning it, they dropped the prototype and it shattered,” says Chris. “They were very apologetic, but I was glad it happened. We needed to go back to the drawing board and make it stronger.”

Len got to work in the carpentry shop on a new prototype. He even took the shield home at night to continue working on the project. The final shield is made from polycarbonate and is much more durable for OR use.

The agility of the group is what really helped get this protective device in the hands of those who need it during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chris says there had to be “dozens and dozens” of people involved in getting this project off the ground.

“We went from concept to prototype to trials to manufactured and delivery within a week,” says Al. “It’s incredible.”

And prototypes have been designed, created and tested for multiple arenas – from EMT and paramedic use to being adapted for those who are performing COVID-19 screenings in tents outside our hospitals.

Building on success

Chris is part of an innovations group that continues to build on the success of this project and adapt the idea for other departments across Geisinger.

He says having a background as a paramedic, flight nurse and intensive care unit nurse prepared him for just about anything. “I’m accustomed to turning uncontrolled environments into controlled,” says Chris. “During a crisis, I’m able to channel my worry into helping others. I really do believe this project will save someone’s life.”

This is just one of the projects Al has taken to his personal LinkedIn account. He posts something new every day – a photo, video or brief comment – about the innovations at Geisinger. He hopes other hospitals and healthcare systems can use the information, too.

“If we do some imaginative projects here, we can save some lives,” Al says. “But if we spread the word to thousands of hospitals across the country, so many more people can benefit.”

Geisinger employee using life saving innovation
Len Letteer, an in-house carpenter who’s worked for Geisinger for 39 years, works on a shield for those screening COVID patients.
Airway hood
A flexible tent was adapted from the intubation shield to help protect EMTs and paramedics while treating patients.
Intubation shield
The intubation shield is demonstrated in the OR.

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